December 1, 2012

What I've been eating lately...

What can I say? Recovering from surgery can make you lose your sparkle.  If you look at my blog archives, you'll notice I kinda took the month of October off from blogging.  At the end of September I had ACL revision-reconstruction on my left knee. Basically I had a "re-do" of a surgery that was performed a little over five years ago to graft a new anterior cruciate ligament in my knee.  I didn't re-injure my knee but the existing graft wasn't doing it's job and being the active person I am, I didn't want to risk a re-tear.  So far, things feel pretty good and I'm getting back to my normal activity levels. 

Now, don't go thinking that just because I went AWOL from blogging means I skipped out on the food scene all together.  No sir, no m'am.  Over the past couple months I have done my more-than-fair-share of eating, especially foods of the comfort variety.  I snapped a lot of pics but this is just a small fraction of it.  The lack of physical activity and need for comfort food has made me a little thicker than normal but I took that liberty without feeling too much guilt.

Here's what I was up to.

A quick stop at La Mexicana in Newport, KY for a light lunch.  Or what I thought was going to be a light lunch.  I had dinner plans and figured 2 tacos was a reasonable amount of food that my appetite for dinner wouldn't be spoiled.  I was wrong!  I ordered one chicken taco and one barbacoa.  The barbacoa, while full of flavor, was on the heavy side.  Lunch, not so light, but very delicious and satisfying. 
I went to The Rookwood for girl's night one Wednesday evening.  We lucked out with some relatively nice weather and sat on the patio.  I'd only been here once before and we sat inside.  I had NO idea they had such lovely outdoor dining; complete with 2 levels of deck area and 3 swings.  You never know when you'll feel like breaking out into a swinging fit. I ordered the fries with Grippo's seasoning.  These are probably one of the most addicting things I've eaten in a long time, just like the potato chips.  Come on, how do they manage to create a perfect balance of sweet, salty, tangy and spicy?  It's magic. We also split an order of the deviled eggs, a cheese board and I had a cup of the chili.  It was delicious but a tad too salty for my liking.
I made my way back to Lavomatic for dinner.  I've been there a handful of times but this was my first since the renovation and updated menu.  We started with the bacon jam and goat cheese spread, served with crostini.  A very rich, savory sweet start to the meal.  I recommend this plate and would order it again.  It was a bit heavy for 2 people. For my entree I had the swai fish tacos.  I remember these being more basic last time I ordered them.  There was a bit too much flavor going on here with the mayo and slaw.  I would have preferred those items on the side. 

I've been trying to get to Buona Vita for almost a year.  My last attempt was back in early January 2012, my friend and I walked through the front door and were faced with an hour wait.  I thought about it off and on over the last several months and after a co-worker started talking about it I had to make a trip.  The side salad was perfect and I loved the balsamic dressing, not sure if it was house-made or not, but I don't really care because I liked how it tasted.  I ordered a small pizza with Italian sausage, mushroom and banana pepper. It's my favorite topping combo for pizza.  So since it was just me, I went for it!  I want to go back and get some better pics and do a full post on this place since it's such a gem, my first trip was great and I'm looking forward to a second.  They had a special on desserts, pumpkin torte with apple gelato.  Yum!  And just the right size that it wasn't too much of a good thing.

About a week later marked my first trip to Dorothy Lane Market.  I'd been hearing about it over the last several months and overall it was a cool place.  They might charge you a little more for a bag of Doritos but they make a spectable of dipping their own apples in caramel for goodness sake!  That more than makes up for it.
I also had my first taste of Jeni's Splendid Salty Caramel ice cream.  Wow, I can see what all the hype is about.  Salty caramel seems to be the in-flavor right now, and I'm a fan of many varieties of salty caramel things. Jeni's lands near the top of my list but for the price of admission, I won't be going often....if you know what I mean!$$$
We did ROTM (Restaurant of the Month) at Eli's Barbecue in October.  I was hosting, but I'd already been so it was kinda anti-climactic.  My first stop was over the summer and it was such a pleasant surprise to experience their outdoor seating area, I felt like I was somewhere in the middle of the deep South, for sure.  Not quite the same experience dining there when it's 40 degrees outside but the food is still amazing.  I had the pulled pork sandwich and an order of cheddar jalapeno grits. This was my first time ordering the grits and I will forever and always choose this as my side item.
The following week I went to Japp's for an afternoon of fun as they were hosting a grilled cheese cook-off in the Annex.  My friend Sharon was one of a handful of local food bloggers who helped judged the event. This is a shot of one of the participant's entries, pretty sure this one was pesto-inspired.  They had a special on bottomless mimosas, $15 for as many as you can drink.  I managed about 6 pours, victory!  I've heard Japp's will be hosting cook-off type events like this in the Annex over the next several months.  It's a laid back good time and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

November 22, 2012

Grown-up Macaroni and Cheese

It's Thanksgiving!  Only my favorite day of the year; mostly because the entire day is about food.  I think that's why it's most everyone's favorite day.  For about the 7th year in a row I'm headed to my sister's to celebrate with our family and my brother-in-law's side of the family.  My typical role is sous chef/dish washer but sometimes I bring a little somthin' to add.

A few years back I attempted a crock-pot macaroni and cheese and it kinda flopped.  In my mind I was thinking "the kids will love this!", but it turned into a mushy, flavorless, starchy heap covered in fake cheese.  I'm pretty sure the kids didn't even like it.

This year I'm going macaroni and cheese at it again, but of the more grown-up variety.  You know, melt the butter and add flour and milk and spices and let it simmer until the flavors come together.  And then add cup after cup after cup of shredded cheese.  Real cheese.  Grown-up cheese from the specialty cheese area at my grocery store. $21 worth of cheese, to be exact. You know it has to be good.
I did a quick search for recipes and chose one that was featured in the Los Angeles Times.  It calls for 5 cups of mild cheddar and 3 cups of Swiss gruyere.  I went with Hennings mild cheddar, Grand Reserve gruyere and a white medium cheddar.  I'm assuming you could use any combination in this recipe, depending on your flavor preferences.  As a side note, I used just over a pound of the cheddar and a half pound of the gruyere to get to the required 7 cups of shredded cheese.  I over-estimated how many blocks of cheese it would take and ended up with about a half pound of cheddar that I did not shred; surely it will go to good use in another recipe.

Before you get started, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and cook 1lb. of large shell pasta or large elbow macaroni in salted water.

You will need:

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1tps. melted butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup flour
5 cups milk (I used whole, but you can probably substitute another variety)
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
4 cups mild cheddar cheese
3 cups shredded Swiss gruyere cheese (I used a different type of gruyere but it worked)
1/2 cup heavy cream

1.) Toast the panko bread crumbs in a teaspoon of melted butter in the oven for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally as to avoid burning.
2.) Melt butter over medium heat and stir in flour until smooth and bubbling slightly.  Remove mixture from heat and add the milk, spices and bay leaf and return to heat until it comes to a boil, stirring frequently.  Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3.) Remove the bay leaf and stir in the gruyere and 3 cups of the cheddar until everything is melted and incorporated into the milk mixture. Add the pasta to the pot containing the cheese sauce until coated.  Then pour into a buttered 9X13 baking dish.  The baking dish needs to be relatively deep.
4.) Top macaroni and cheese with remaining cup of cheddar cheese and bread crumbs and cover with foil.  Bake for 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven, uncover and bake for 10 additional minutes.  Broil for 5 minutes before serving. 

Before going into the oven...

After baking...
I did a taste test to make sure it wasn't poisonous and the finished product is rich and creamy and very full-flavored. Is it the best macaroni and cheese I've every had?  Well, I think it's still too early to tell but it will be a nice addition to our Thanksgiving meal.  I have so much to be thankful for today, beyond what I can even imagine.  I hope your day is filled with all the people and things that inspire you to give the most thanks!

November 18, 2012

Findlay Market Fun

A while back, I attended a blogger meet-up at Market Wines at Findlay Market.  The market's resource development director, Karen Kahle, invited local bloggers to engage in conversation about what is going on in Cincinnati as far as food is concerned.

I was happy to participate in this event, although I would say I continue my blog as a creative outlet and way to indulge my crazy need to snap pictures of food, I learned a lot of great information and met some very friendly people who have worked for years to promote not only Cincinnati's food scene, but Cincinnati in general.

I've been visiting the market on a regular basis and I thought I'd share some pics of what I've enjoyed...
Fresh juice/smoothies from Hunter Greengrass have become a part of my Saturday afternoon routine.  I tried the "like licking the blade of a lawnmower" wheat grass and it's delightful. Of course, the first time I went for juice, I had to go and instagram the pretty thing!

On an early visit over the summer, before I was familiar with the lay of the land all the market had to offer, I stumbled upon Skirtz and Johnston.  It was like I was the first person to eat there, ever.  Admittedly, this place isn't a huge secret and it was bustling with customers for lunch.  Good thing it's not a secret because my soup and sandwich combo was amazing; I love the bright, open decor as well.  I can't remember exactly what this sandwich was but the best way to explain it is as a super-classy Arby's beef and cheddar; right down to the onion bun.  It paired nicely with the bowl of vegetable soup.

I came across a heck of a steal on cherries one Saturday afternoon-- 3lbs. for $5!  And they were delicious, every last one of them.
Pork bahn mi from Pho Lang Thang, or anything from Pho Lang Thang will make your heart sing.  And we should all be eating things that make our heart sing at least once a day.  This trip included my first taste of Vietnamese coffee, mmmm.  The Hudy Amber Lager tall boy was the icing on the cake, gotta love byob.
I also tried the spring rolls on a recent visit and they were so amazingly fresh!  Packed full of vermicelli, mint, shrimp and cilantro.  The peanut butter hoison dipping sauce really completes this dish. 
Amazing wine and craft beer selection at Market Wines.  The wine tastings on Saturday and Sunday afternoon get fairly busy but for $5 it's a great way to try before you buy; I have some new favorites thanks to the tastings.

This is a breakfast scramble from Mama Lo Hizo.  They were down to the bottom of the scrambled egg barrel so they gave me the rest plus pinto beans, their delicious white queso, tomatoes, a couple kinds of salsa including a super-spicy-give-you-heartburn-but-who-cares-cause-it's-worth-it green salsa that is out of this world. 

This is just a little snipit of some my adventures at the market the past few months.  I'm looking forward to many more.  Once I find something I like (pork banh mi, for example), it's hard for me to want to go anywhere else, so the challenge is to try something new each time I go.  I'll be sure and share it with you here! 

September 26, 2012


Nicola's has been on my foodie bucket list for a while.  I drive past it everyday on my way home from work and it stays on my radar.  My birthday happened to be on a Monday this year and I thought it nothing but serendipitous; considering Nicola's offers a $13 Bolognese special on Mondays nights. 

Normally, the Monday night special is only good in the bar area.  The bar area is really small and we had five adults and two kids with us.  They were gracious enough to seat us in the dining room and seemed to be serving the Monday night special to other patrons in the dining room as well. Although after dining here with 2 kids, I don't recommend it.  The atmosphere is rather formal and I'm not certain the staff are use to serving children. There are, understandably, no substitutions or alternative menu options for kids.

I started off in the bar area while I waited for the rest of my family to arrive.  I enjoyed a glass of the Le Gemme red blend and some complimentary marconi almonds along with the best green and black olives I've ever tasted.

I can't go any further in this post until I show you a picture of the bread.  Oh my, the bread basket that was probably made by angels and sent from heaven.  All of these unique breads are made in-house except for the the sourdough which is made by Shadeau Breads.
 My favorites were the little round breads topped with tomato, onion and cucumber (or maybe it's zucchini, I'm not really sure).  There was also a walnut bread at the bottom of the basket and it was delicious, it had the slightest sweetness to it and combined with the nutty flavor of the walnuts it was lovely and unexpected.

The $13 Monday special comes with a house salad of greens, tomato and a vinegarette.

The tagliatelle bolognese was delicious and definitely lived up to the expectations I had been building for months and months.  The meat sauce includes veal and beef and is finished with butter.  It is served over house-made tagliatelle, which is similar in style to a fettucine noodle.

We passed on dessert at the restaurant and went outside to enjoy some birthday cupcakes I baked. I'm so happy to have celebrated my birthday at Nicola's, I can't wait to go back for another big bowl of bolognese! 
Nicola's on Urbanspoon

September 12, 2012

Peace, Love, Oktoberfest Mainstrasse

The sub-title for this post should read: We came, we saw, we peed our pants laughing at drunk people dancing.  Seriously, best entertainment ever.  I haven't been to Mainstrasse's Oktoberfest celebration in 10 years so I was pumped to check it out.  I walk into all food-focused street festivals with a "game-on" kind of approach.  I don't want to simply hang out and eat a little food and drink a little beer, I want to conquer the food booths.  Oktoberfest this past weekend was no different.  We were super-thorough and did a complete walk-through of the venue before we purchased one thing.

First things first...
We started out very German with Spaten Oktoberfest and a Bavarian pretzel with nacho cheese and an order of sauerkraut balls.  Unfortunately they did not serve a traditional beer cheese but we pushed through.  And perhaps spilled some of our own beer into the nacho cheese.

Next up was the feather fries.  If you've never seen or heard of these you need to check them out.  The picture will really speak for itself but it's basically a very thinly spiraled potato that is deep fried and then topped with nacho cheese sauce and ranch dressing, and I dipped mine in ketchup as well.  It was good, but not for the faint of heart and the portion could easily serve 3 people. 
The food was chosen in the order that we passed that particular food booth.  Next was the home-made donut booth.  I've heard stories about these donuts, apparently they're served at church festivals, I'm fairly certain they're made by the Knights of Columbus.  They offer powdered sugar and cinnamon sugar and they only cost $1 each, steal!
Funny story.  When I handed the girl my $5 bill for our order I accidentally dropped it in the tray of powdered sugar donuts.  There was an older gentleman working the booth and he was transferring the donuts on the table to another area. He simply picked up my $5, handed it to the girl, and went about loading the donuts into the tray...including the one my money landed on.  Like it was no big deal at all!  I can't say which flavor was better, I think I'm partial to the cinnamon sugar for the added flavor.
We noticed on our loop around the food area that one of the barbecue booths was roasting a pig and would be turning it into pulled pork at 6pm.
After the donuts we grabbed another beer and an order of pulled pork and sat down for some people-watching and music.
It was time to digest for a bit so we found the German band and tons of opportunities for people watching.  Some people were REALLY getting into the music.  We did some more walking and ventured into the arts and crafts booths, saw some cool sidewalk chalk and got our picture taken in one of those wooden things with the faces cut out.
I'm sure I'm getting the sequence of events a little muddied here but at some point (after the pork, I think) we noticed the Mr. Softee truck.  I can't remember the last time I had soft serve from Mr. Softee, this was meant to happen.  They were out of chocolate soft serve, chocolate shell and sprinkles.  Ugh.  But I went with a vanilla soft serve and cherry shell and it was unbelievable!
After the ice cream we topped things off with a potato pancake from Izzy's and eventually ended the night with a volcano funnel cake.  It was a regular funnel cake with a piece of cheese cake in the middle of it, topped with powdered sugar, strawberries and whipped cream.  I'm not too proud to admit the volcano was a bad idea, bad.
After this we basically looked at each other in disgust and decided it was time to go.  I got stuck getting into my car because I had to park so close to the car next to me so the lot could maximize on parking spaces.  Almost lost a foot.  I can't remember the last time I ate so much or laughed that hard.  I can't even begin to compare it to Oktoberfest in Cincinnati because it is so completely different and unique and beautiful in its own way.  It was a good time that I will not soon forget!

August 19, 2012

Maribelle's Tavern

I dined at Maribelle's a few times when it was located on Eastern Avenue and each time I walked away with a different impression and experience.  My menu choices previously ranged from egg salad sandwich, to pesto pizza to scallops with risotto.  Although I loved the charm of their location in the old Du Drop Inn, the feel in the new location is more consistent and the menu seems more defined.

A burger isn’t the first thing that catches my eye on most menus but I had a feeling I wouldn't regret this choice.  At a reasonable price of $13 the burger was juicy, delicious and generously topped with all kinds of fresh ingredients including- bacon, white cheddar, tomato and greens and served with a side of duck fat Yukon gold rosemary fries.
I was expecting the burger portion to be smaller so I also ordered the chilled asparagus soup and the swordfish ceviche.  Both of these items were on the daily specials menu. As suspicious as I was of chilled asparagus, the soup was amazing.  Very rich and creamy and full of all kinds of things one should not eat on a regular basis; delicious none the less.   
This was the first ceviche I have tried and it was a very refreshing appetizer and enough to pass around the table for everyone to try.  Because it's so full on flavor, I don't really think it's something I could eat a lot of but I enjoyed the dish.  It was not served with enough bread and they gladly brought out a few more slices.

Overall I enjoyed my meal and will be back.  The menu was varied with a nice selection of starters, salads, sandwiches and some unique sides to choose from.  I can see myself going back to enjoy a Caesar salad and an order of the gravy fries if I’m not looking for something as substantial as the burger or other sandwiches, because, you know, fries topped with gravy is a lighter option;).  One of their daily soups and a light appetizer would make a great light lunch. 
I was much too full to consider dessert but the brownie trio sounds amazing. Excited for a new restaurant choice in the Oakley area, hope Mariabelle’s continues to enjoy much success.
Maribelle's eat + drink on Urbanspoon

August 4, 2012

Abigail Street

A recent stop for June ROTM (restaurant of the month) brought us to Abigail Street.  I've been to Abigail Street once before but it was more of light appetizer and wine evening and I was looking forward to returning to have my complete fill of their tapas-style offerings and, of course, more wine.

I started with a choose-your-own flight; enjoyed all three but my favorite was the La Posta Malbec. 
For the past month or so, sweet pea crostini seems to be popping up a lot around me- online on other food blogs, in magazines and now on menus at local restaurants.  When I saw the sweet pea and mascarpone crostini on the menu at Abigail Street I knew I had to try it.  It was everything I'd hoped it would be.  The sweet pea mascarpone had the subtlest hint of mint and the bread was soft with a slight crunch; I could not get enough of the buttery goodness. The portion was substantial and plenty to share around the table. 
I followed the crostini with the bouillabaise, a first for me.  It was different than I expected; in a good way.  The saffron broth was thick and creamy.  I thought boulliabaisse had more of a thin, tomatoey, not-creamy-at-all broth but I was wrong.  The rouille (after some wikipedia-ing I learned is a broth made with olive oil, bread crumbs, garlic, saffron and chili peppers) managed to be light, yet rich at the same time.  But not so rich that I couldn't finish it. Make sense? Amazing. The bowl was filled with shrimp, halibut, and mussels and a couple slices of bread for dipping in rouille.
I am a self-professed volume-eater.  I like to look at my plate and see a large amount of food.  This can cause a certain level of anxiety for me at tapas places.  The greedy little-girl in me comes out and fears she will go hungry and there won't be enough of something she likes and wants to keep eating.  No worries. Between the crostini and the boulliabaisse I was probably over-satieted.  I recommend the crostini for sharing as it contained a large amount of bread; especially if you order a dish that comes with sliced bread.  I would order both dishes again, although I can't help but be tempted by the other items on the menu.  How can I limit myself to the same two choices when there is so much to explore?

My friend ordered the fattoush and the portion was huge; family-style for sure.  We passed the dish around the table a couple times and she took home the rest.  The fattoush contained yellow pepper, radish, tomato, cucumber, pita and zataar- a dried mixture of Mediterranean/Middle Eastern herbs.
I didn't try the lamb sliders and I'm hesitant to put anything on the blog that I have not tried, but they looked and smelled so amazing that I can't help but talk about them.  They were topped with goat cheese and what I believe was a mixture of sauteed onion, tomato and pepper; don't quote me on that one.   
I walked away from my second visit at Abigail Street much the same way I walked away from the first- anxiously anticipating my next visit.

Abigail Street on Urbanspoon